Take a Drink: whenever something sad and Oscary happens
Take a Drink: for “wacky” cultural misunderstandings
Take a Drink: for battle flashbacks
Take a Drink: whenever Crowe checks a melodramatic cliche off the list
Do a Shot: whenever Crowe finds something
By: Henry J. Fromage (Six Pack) –
With The Water Diviner, Russell Crowe joins the ranks of actors turned directors, and with a better actorial resume than the vast majority of his peers who’ve taken a seat in the big chair.
This is what Ben Affleck was doing immediately prior to Gone Baby Gone
He’s certainly picked an ambitious project to start with- a sweeping historical picture about a water diviner (aka quasi-magic fresh water finder- Russell Crowe, of course) who goes off in search of something else after his wife’s death- namely, the bodies of his three sons, who all died at Gallipoli, the WWI meatgrinder of a battle in which the Turks staved off Commonwealth troops with heavy losses on both sides. Upon arrival in Turkey, he finds a bureaucracy unwilling to reopen old wounds, but one man who fought on the other side (Yilmaz Erdogan) agrees to help him. So, did he bring it off?
Russell Crowe can act, we all know that. In this he gives himself the best part, and does a dependably good job carrying it off, single-handedly injecting soulfulness into scenes that I guarantee didn’t have that on paper. Erdogan, who you may recognize from Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, is also above this material, as is the very tragically late (just this week, a heart attack) DP Andrew Lesnie (all the Lord of the Rings flicks), who shoots magic hour, sunsets, and the gorgeous real Turkish locations with skill and verve otherwise lacking in this film.
Literally right from the title credits, rendered in a cheesy “Arabic” font that would be more at home on some late 90s Young Indiana Jones retread, it’s clear Crowe has no idea what he’s doing (also, Russell, with your Arabian Nights subtext or whatever… Turks are Turks, not Arabs).
Ironically making the same WWI-derived mistakes that turned the Middle East into the perpetual murder machine it is today…
Next, we’re treated to a battle scene of obviously tiny scale edited with the same principle used by Taken– if you can’t actually see what Liam Neeson’s doing, you’ll assume it’s something badass. Adding insult to injury is the frankly embarrassing CGI, and then adding more injury to those insults, later flashbacks to a nighttime battle scene are actually very competent, so what’s this scene’s excuse? I know this gets thrown around a lot, but we’re talking Asylum-level, Sharknado CGI. Couldn’t Weta have done Lesnie a favor on this or something?
Then we cut to Crowe a few years later in Australia, divining a well, then going home to his wife, played by Jacqueline McKenzie, who gets maybe three lines, all hysterically delivered. With “You can find water, but you can’t even find your own children!” you realize with a sinking feeling that more money was spent on that CGI than the script. This is going to get rough.
After she rather relievingly kills herself, the local priest sort of steals Crowe’s horse, cart, and freakin’ dog, because Catholics. Now that he ain’t got nothing else going on, it’s Turkey Time! What do you know, within minutes he’s befriended/had his suitcase stolen by an adorable Turkish moppet, who leads him on a merry chase to the hotel owned by his mother, played by the reliably ethnic (Ukrainian) Olga Kurylenko. Hey look, several decades younger, disproportionately attractive love interest! Things are already looking up for ‘ol Russell.
This is when we learn Jai Courtney’s in this movie. Things are not looking up for us.
If you don’t hate me already, don’t worry, you will.
After a sequence that is actually slightly subtle and affecting, Russell magically divines where his kids died, because the title, Silly! This scene is a microcosm of everything wrong with the film, as it intercuts an admirably confrontational sequence of one of his sons’ protracted death rattles as his eldest son, who promised his father he’d take care of his brothers, looks on with, well, the inexplicable magic bullshit of Crowe… sensing this? Using his Patricia Arquette Medium powers?
At this point it barrels downhill into a wet marshy slush of white guilt and romantic cliches. Crowe tries to Sean Penn some faintly understood geopolitical nonsense involving villainous Greeks or something into the film (Oh, by the way- guess what weekend this is? It’s the too fucking ridiculous to be true 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocid- err, Kerfuffle. Oops!) then uses his way too soon age-inappropriate romance to comment on how much it sucks to be a traditional Muslim woman, yo. Plus there’s some dream sequences of whirling dervishes for some reason, and a thoroughly tacked on happy ending for all of the name characters anyway. The film ends with Crowe slowly cracking a bashful chubby schoolboy grin. It’s creepier than anything It Follows had to offer.
You’d think after working under Michael Mann, Ridley Scott, and Darren Aronofsky, Russell Crowe would’ve picked up a few things. Well, there’s always next time…